If you ask Bill Johnson, many Christians will say they believe God is good because the Bible says so, but the way they interpret His goodness is another matter entirely.
Johnson, 65, who is the senior pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, said in a recent interview with The Christian Post that for some in the Body of Christ, wrong beliefs about Him are often borne out of the potent pain and disappointment that comes from unanswered prayers. God's character is thus impugned in the process.
"It's what I refer to as lazy theology," Johnson told CP without an ounce of accusation in his voice, particularly the idea that "because sometimes something doesn't happen, it must not be His will."
"When God is not desiring that any should perish and people are perishing, we know that something is happening that's not His will. And so, we have to make some adjustments and take responsibility," he said, making a reference to 2 Peter 3:9.
And Johnson is well aware that a statement like that is bound to open up one giant, doctrinal can of worms.
Yet, without delving into the Calvinist and Arminian minutiae about God's sovereignty and free will that often characterizes contemporary theological squabbles, Johnson tackles this contested topic in the first chapter of his new book, God Is Good: He's Better Than You Think. The book is a passionate exposition on the heart of the Father wherein he contends that it is only a revelation of God's goodness that can heal and restore a divided Church.
For American readers in particular, Johnson's 215-page work will strike a rather prophetic note given the bitter political and cultural conflicts besetting the United States as a tense presidential election looms on the horizon. But the author is more concerned about how the Church has permitted such divisions to be celebrated.
According to Johnson, the spiritual war going on within the family of God is far more pernicious than the racial, political, or economic strife we are currently seeing.
"The conflict is over the goodness of God," Johnson asserts in the book. "That spirit of accusation is welcomed in many circles as the voice of reason, the voice of discernment. My prayer is that through an arresting revival in the nations, we will see another Great Awakening that dismantles the tsunami of the demonic that thrives on our self-righteous theology and corresponding division it creates."
When people pray for things that don't come to pass, particularly for supernatural things like healing or miracles, the tendency for some is to jump to the conclusion that it was not God's desire to do it. And that's a grave mistake, he asserted.
"It's easier for people to say 'God just doesn't do that anymore' than for them to set aside their life and pursue that kind of breakthrough," Johnson said.
And pursuing that kind of breakthrough is normal life at Bethel Church. Each Saturday morning in their main sanctuary, trained lay ministers pray fervently for healing for those suffering from all kinds of infirmities. And each week they witness the Holy Spirit do wondrous miracles in people's lives. Although formal membership hovers around 1,400, thousands more attend weekend services there, in part because the church is home to a dynamic school of ministry comprising thousands of students from all over the world.
"Sometimes when we lack the experience mentioned in Scripture, we tend to look for an obscure passage that somehow explains and/or excuses our lack of experience in the place of the overwhelming evidence given through the life of Jesus," Johnson writes in the book.
Despite the fierce objections of some cessationists — those who believe that signs and wonders ceased with the death of the last Apostle — Johnson believes God is restoring the miraculous to the Church through faith-filled believers who step out and pray for healing for people facing crises, believing God to make good on his promises. That approach to ministry is particularly effective for those who do not yet know the Lord and it is not without biblical precedent.
Consider for a moment, Johnson offered, that "when Paul would reach out to the Jew, and reach out to the Jew, and reach out to the Jew, they would reject him. And he said, 'Fine, I'm going to take [the Gospel] to the Gentiles. Well, that's happening in the Church today."
"We reach out to believers, we reach out to believers, and they don't believe it. They don't hear it. So we turn instead to the unbeliever, and the unbeliever has no problem with it. They get healed, experience a miracle, it changes things." Such is the Gospel of the Kingdom.
As for dramatic life changes, Johnson's own life took a challenging turn as he was producing his most recent work, a health scare where the importance of accessing the goodness of God, the very subject about which he was writing, hit home.
Last October Johnson started feeling nauseated and throwing up — something he says he almost never experiences — and with each passing month the bouts with sickness became more frequent. When routine medical exams revealed nothing he soldiered on, but in early 2016 he knew something was very wrong.
While ministering in Denmark in March, Johnson fell violently ill, vomiting 16 times in a single day. Shortly after returning home, doctors discovered a nasty blockage in his intestine and before he knew it he had undergone two endoscopies and was facing the prospect of an invasive operation where half his pancreas would likely have to be cut out. Thousands around the globe were praying that extreme surgery would not have to happen.
In what many believe was a miracle, physicians found they had a centimeter, just enough space, in his gut to perform a much simpler procedure, removing only a tiny piece of his intestine and successfully extracting the blockage. Johnson now says with a chuckle that he is "probably 105 percent" recovered and feels better than he ever has.
While recuperating, Johnson spent hours poring over the pages of the Bible, feasting on the promises of God in Scripture and calling to memory the many prophetic words that have been spoken over his life. His conclusion after this whole ordeal? God is still very, very good.
Perhaps the most stirring section of God is Good is chapter 8, titled "Jesus Christ, Perfect Theology," in which Johnson reiterates a central theme in his first book, When Heaven Invades Earth: Jesus clothed in supernatural power, is the model for Christian ministry.
Even the most seasoned, erudite theologians cannot match the Man who is seated at the right hand of God. Christ not only has, but is himself "perfect theology." For those who desire to follow Him, both purity of heart and a life of power are essential.
"Much of today's theology denies the lifestyle that Jesus lived." Johnson told CP. "And so, if I'm believing something in my pursuit of following Jesus that is contrary to the way He did life and ministry, then I need to reexamine what I do. "
"And Jesus exactly represented the Father so there's not a conflict. There's not a conflict between his example and the Father's heart. He actually reveals the Father's heart that had never been revealed before. So that's why there's this distinction between Old and New Testament, they served two different purposes. And so, when you see Jesus you see what God had been wanting to say all along."
Lest anyone think Johnson's book is yet another in the line of liberal, quasi-universalist takes on God's love and goodness that winks at licentiousness and sin, nothing could be further from the truth.
In light of the proliferation of false teaching and deceptions gaining ground, Johnson said that what often happens is that people come up with their own definitions and then reinterpret the scriptures by those definitions.
"That's the error," Johnson said. "We all have definitions and perceptions of truths. But those truths have to be constantly pruned and redefined by Scripture."
"It doesn't have to make sense to me," he said, adding that God's Word "is perfectly logical but only when I see it from His perspective. And it usually requires me to embrace something that I don't understand. It's the peace that passes understanding. If you want the peace that passes understanding, you going to have to give up your right to understand. That's part of the process."
As one submits to the process of obeying and believing without full comprehension, God then begins to impart divine perspective where there is understanding. .
"We can't subject the nature of God and the Word of God to our intelligence; we have to subject our intelligence to the Word of God," Johnson said.
CP asked Johnson what he hoped readers take away most from God Is Good: He's Better Than You Think.
The heartbeat, Johnson emphasized, is this: "I want for people to embrace Jesus is the perfect example of the Father. Throughout all of time, it has been [God's] intention to reveal the heart of a Father to an orphan planet."
He added, "guard yourself from redefining God's nature by disappointment and by things that didn't happen."
"I know of one denominational leader who years ago asked God for the baptism in the Holy Spirit and he didn't experience what other people experienced so he created a doctrine in [his denomination's] movement against that experience. It was out of his own lack of experience."
"And that's what we can't afford to do," he concluded.
For more on Bill Johnson and his latest book, click here.